Few musicians perform equally well live and in studio. Max Emanuel Cencic is an exception for he does not seem to differentiate between the theatre and the recording studio: in this album, his singing throughout is as animated and heartfelt as if given live. The selections brim with excitement from beginning to end, the pensive arias approached as fervidly as the more obviously impressive coloratura numbers, some thing that is not easily achieved in an album of this genre. The opening aria is from Hasse's 1734 Dresden oratorio Il cantico de' tre fanciulli, a setting of the Biblical story of the fiery furnace. Track 1 `Notte amica, oblio de' mali' is an aria of Misaele (Meshach). In the oratorio, the rapt religious fervor of this aria had a significant impact on the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, and Cencic's fervent rendition of the piece makes a similar impact on his listeners. On the other hand, in pieces like `Solca il mar e nel periglio' from Tigrane, Cencic performs the tumultuous disquiet of the sea in immaculately-phrased coloratura, the piquant edge on the voice clutching the music from the first note and not letting go until every passion has been wrung from the text. Technically, Cencic's breath control is exceptional. Interpretation wise, Cencic towers over most interpreters of this repertory in his uncanny ability to create even in performances of arias removed from their contexts' microcosms of palpable sensitivity. His treatment of da capo parts of the arias is nothing less than spectacularly contrasting, and his cadenzas are stylishly done. More importantly, he treats ornamentation with absolute good taste, showing up the sensitivity as well as evocative aspects that best suit the texts in their rightful contexts, deploying deftly-maneuvered trills where required. Of the current crop of top counter-tenors, Cencic demonstrates a wide range of vocal expressiveness that reaches out to flamboyant showmanship as well as lyrical tenderness. Never lacking in musical imagination, the rhythmic thrusts are so well carried throughout the different pieces as to never allowing a single instance of flagging. Cencic's sheer delight of singing overflows this album as the listeners move from track to track, moving his listeners to rapt attentiveness from beginning to end; no small feat for a solo vocal album of this nature. For opera listeners reared on the likes of Flagstad, Nilsson, Callas and Sutherland, the countertenor voice may always be an acquired taste. Even so, Max Emanuel Cencic is a singer whom these great artists of the past would undoubtedly recognize as a peer. Singing apart, as a sort of interlude to Cencic's brilliant vocal recital, with mandolin player Theodoros Kitsos, Armonia Atenea and Maestro Petrou give a chic account of Hasse's Mandolin Concerto in G major, a work that owes as much to the influence of Händel's Organ Concerti as to Vivaldi's music for mandolin.
Surely one cannot tire of hearing the sweet and graceful voice Max Emanuel Cenčić, certainly not when he has teamed up once again (after appearing in Handel's Alessandro) with George Petrou conducting the warming sound of the instrumental ensemble Armonia Atenea.
The subject chosen here is Johann Adolf Hasse, a composer rather unrepresented in the discography, but who in his time was regarded as "the father of music", and "every maestro called him so", even speaking of him as "maestro de' maestri". Yet very quickly after his death he was forgotten. The accompanying booklet speculates as to why this might be, postulating that his very success made him a man "so much of his time that he could not transcend it". More tellingly though it remarks that Handel's operas long suffered the same fate also, as indeed did Vivaldi and other Baroque composers whose music is now revived and who are regarded as being among the greats. Perhaps the time is now right to rediscover Hasse also.
The eleven arias presented here, of which seven are première recordings, are taken from eight operas and one oratorio composed between 1729 and 1774. As might be expected the selection demonstrates a variety of moods, anger, vengefulness, defiance, sorrow and pity, for Cenčić to display his capability for the fiery and dramatic in the furiously paced bravura arias and poignancy for the slower numbers.
There is a concerto for mandolin thrown into the middle of the programme. With aria compilations in general one may regard such an instrumental intermezzo as a welcome break, but I for one can't get enough of Cenčić and it seems almost like an unwelcome intrusion.
The booklet presents some notes on Hasse's career, and libretti with translations are provided.
Hasse's music is full of power ,character, pace and melody and Max Cenic does it justice in spades. his voice is powerful and dramatic bringing a richness and range which the music requires. I would love to hear him to produce a recording of the whole of haase's opera L'Olimpiade as these two tracks are my favourite ones on this album.
Although Hasse was one of the composer superstars of his day, he's been very much overshadowed in our day by the all-dominating Handel and Bach. However, more and more singers are choosing to tackle his demanding arias and this offering comes from Max Cencic - one of the best-established and most versatile countertenors on the current scene. Overlook the quirky cover photo if you can: Cencic does love to dress up on his album covers. The album is superb. However, it’s hard to choose favourites because Cencic is so darn good throughout, but his opening track, Notte amica from the Cantico dei tre fanciulli is simply stupendous. It really shows off his range which, unlike that of many countertenor colleagues, can dip deep into shimmering low notes without any hint of a register break. The opening notes here are divine. By contrast, the closing aria Vo disperato a morte from the opera Tito Vespasiano is in a totally different spirit: a beguiling combination of splendour and sensitivity. Cencic's albums are so reliably good that I can forgive him anything: even the fact he gives away three tracks for a mandolin concerto when I just want to hear more of him. Whether I compare his voice to honey or velvet or melted chocolate, one thing’s for sure: the man has class.
So far I've only had one opportunity to listen to this CD but the wait will be well worth it from what I've heard. Max Cencic is one of a new generation of counter tenors who look more like pop stars, but don't be fooled. This one knows what he is doing.